Development

Low-income countries differ from higher-income countries in that they have large informal sectors, greater prevalence of self-employment and subsistence agriculture, low female labor participation rates and poor labor market conditions. As labor is most often the only asset of someone in poverty, policies that are not associated with job creation may fail to reduce poverty. Contributions to this subject area deal with the potential of labor economics to address those challenges.

  • Does increasing the minimum wage reduce poverty in developing countries?

    Whether raising minimum wages reduces—or increases—poverty depends on the characteristics of the labor market

    T. H. Gindling, November 2018
    Raising the minimum wage in developing countries could increase or decrease poverty, depending on labor market characteristics. Minimum wages target formal sector workers—a minority in most developing countries—many of whom do not live in poor households. Whether raising minimum wages reduces poverty depends not only on whether formal sector workers lose jobs as a result, but also on whether low-wage workers live in poor households, how widely minimum wages are enforced, how minimum wages affect informal workers, and whether social safety nets are in place.
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  • Compensating displaced workers

    Uncoordinated unemployment insurance and severance pay do a poor job of insuring against losses resulting from job displacement

    Donald O. Parsons, September 2018
    Job displacement poses a serious earnings threat to long-tenured workers through unemployment spells and lower re-employment wages. The prevailing method of insuring job displacement losses involves an uncoordinated combination of unemployment insurance and severance pay. Less developed countries often rely exclusively on public mandating of employer severance pay due to the administrative complexity of unemployment insurance systems. If both options are operational, systematic integration of the two is important, although perhaps not possible if severance pay is voluntarily provided.
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  • Defining informality vs mitigating its negative effects

    More important than defining and measuring informality is focusing on reducing its detrimental consequences

    There are more informal workers than formal workers across the globe, and yet there remains confusion as to what makes workers or firms informal and how to measure the extent of it. Informal work and informal economic activities imply large efficiency and welfare losses, in terms of low productivity, low earnings, sub-standard working conditions, and lack of social insurance coverage. Rather than quibbling over definitions and measures of informality, it is crucial for policymakers to address these correlates of informality in order to mitigate the negative efficiency and welfare effects.
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  • The labor market in Brazil, 2001–2015

    An ongoing crisis threatens Brazil’s recent increased earnings and its decreased inequality and gender and ethnic gaps

    From 2001 to 2015, Brazil experienced a profound reduction in income inequality. The commodities boom and some institutional changes in the early 2000s kick-started the Brazilian labor market, increasing the quantity of formal jobs and earnings, especially for the poorest workers. Significant increases in average schooling and the real minimum wage helped reduce ethnic, gender, and regional earnings gaps, though all remain rather high. However, since 2014 a major fiscal crisis has negatively affected GDP and the labor market, seriously threatening these achievements.
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  • How should job displacement wage losses be insured?

    Wage losses upon re-employment can seriously harm long-tenured displaced workers if they are not properly insured

    Donald O. Parsons, June 2018
    Job displacement represents a serious earnings risk to long-tenured workers through lower re-employment wages, and these losses may persist for many years. Moreover, this risk is often poorly insured, although not for a lack of policy interest. To reduce this risk, most countries mandate scheduled wage insurance (severance pay), and it is voluntarily provided in others. Actual-loss wage insurance is uncommon, although perceived difficulties may be overplayed. Both approaches offer the hope of greater consumption smoothing, with actual-loss plans carrying greater promise.
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  • Effects of regulating international trade on firms and workers

    The benefits of trade regulation increase when workers are mobile

    Raymond Robertson, June 2018
    Economists have shown that international trade increases economic growth, with trade liberalization and integration having characterized the last 50 years. While trade can increase national welfare, recent estimates from both developed and developing countries show that labor market adjustment costs matter. Regulating trade, defined as adding or removing tariffs and other trade barriers, is not the best way to help lower-income workers who suffer from trade-induced losses. Policies that reduce adjustment costs may increase aggregate welfare more than regulating trade flows does.
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  • Aggregate labor productivity

    Labor productivity is generally seen as bringing wealth and prosperity; but how does it vary over the business cycle?

    Michael C. Burda, April 2018
    Aggregate labor productivity is a central indicator of an economy’s economic development and a wellspring of living standards. Somewhat controversially, many macroeconomists see productivity as a primary driver of fluctuations in economic activity along the business cycle. In some countries, the cyclical behavior of labor productivity seems to have changed. In the past 20–30 years, the US has become markedly less procyclical, while the rest of the OECD has not changed or productivity has become even more procyclical. Finding a cogent and coherent explanation of these developments is challenging.
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  • The labor market in India since the 1990s

    Productivity growth and low unemployment have not been matched by comparable rises in wages

    The Indian economy entered an ongoing process of trade liberalization, domestic deregulation, and privatization of public sector units in 1991. Since then, per capita output has increased significantly, while the overall unemployment rate has remained low. However, labor force participation rates have fallen sharply, especially for women. In addition, youth unemployment remains stubbornly high, an overwhelming proportion of the labor force continues to work in the informal sector, and there is little evidence of a sustained rise in wages for either unskilled rural or factory workers.
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  • Managerial quality and worker productivity in developing countries

    Business consulting and supervisory skills training can improve firm productivity and labor relations

    Achyuta Adhvaryu, February 2018
    Productivity differences across firms and countries are surprisingly large and persistent. Recent research reveals that the country-level distributions of productivity and quality of management are strikingly similar, suggesting that management practices may play a key role in the determination of worker and firm productivity. Understanding the causal impacts of these practices on productivity and the effectiveness of various management interventions is thus of primary policy interest.
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  • How digital payments can benefit entrepreneurs

    Digital payments can increase firms’ profits by allowing more efficient and cost-effective financial transactions

    Leora Klapper, November 2017
    Digital payment systems can conveniently and affordably connect entrepreneurs with banks, employees, suppliers, and new markets for their goods and services. These systems can accelerate business registration and payments for business licenses and permits by reducing travel time and expenses. Digital financial services can also improve access to savings accounts and loans. Electronic wage payments to workers can increase security and reduce the time and cost of paying employees. Yet, there are challenges as many entrepreneurs and employees lack bank accounts, digital devices, and reliable technology infrastructure.
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